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Soft Spots: Through the Vale of Tears on the Season Finale of Fringe

"I don't belong here... but I don't belong there, either."

Throughout the two seasons thus far of FOX's trippy sci-fi drama Fringe, we've associated the world of Olivia Dunham and the Bishops pere et fils with the color blue, a somber color that's been reflected in the main title sequence, the frequent colored flares that have appeared on the the screen at dramatic or pivotal moments, and the general muted color palette of the world in which these characters live.

On the other side, the alternate dimension from which a young Peter Bishop was kidnapped by a desperately grieving Walter Bishop, we see a world that's rather like ours on the surface but which is different in so many ways that matter. There, the color of choice is red, a deep crimson that's echoed in the opening credits for the two-part season finale of Fringe, the comic-book heroes whose stories line the walls of an apartment Walter has furnished for Peter (Red Arrow and Red Lantern being two), and the machine that will create a "doorstop" for Bishops and Olivia to cross back over to their own world.

I couldn't help but notice in the final half of the two-part Fringe finale ("Over There, Part Two"), written by J.H. Wyman, Jeff Pinkner, and Akiva Goldsman and directed by Akiva Goldsman, that we're seeing a world brought to life as the living, breathing, embodiment of unexpected consequences, that destination at the end of the road to Hell that's paved with good intentions.

Walter Bishop attempted to save the life of an alternate version of his dead son. In doing so, he tore a hole through the fabric of time and space and unleashed a wave of unspeakable horrors onto an unsuspecting world. While he acted out of love and grief, Walter all but destroyed an entire universe. As last night's finale began, we saw the results of those actions as Peter took a guided tour of Manhattan in a dirigible, witnessing the quarantine areas--including Madison Square Garden and the 10,000 people declared legally dead within--that are the ripple-effect of Walter's cross-time continuum jaunt.

What Peter sees is staggering, really. And it speaks volumes about just why this universe would fight back, would seek to lash out at the man who caused all of this and pay his home world back in kind for the tragedy that it has caused. We've long known that a war was coming between the two universes, but I don't think anyone anticipated that Peter Bishop himself would be the flashpoint. From the Department of Defense headquarters on Liberty Island (atop which sits Lady Liberty, with her original copper-bronze hue intact), The Secretary--a.k.a. Walternate--has set in motion a plot that will ensnare his own son and use him not to fix the broken elements of this universe but to destroy the other world.

Peter slowly realizes this after falling under the lure of his biological father. But in looking at the device that Walternate is hoping to build, Peter realizes his signifance... and that while, like his alternate universe counterpart, Walternate traveled through a hole between the worlds to bring him home, he is not a good man. Not like our Walter Bishop. While Walter's experiments may have had disastrous consequences, he has always operated out of a need to help, not to harm. While these two men might be identical, they're polar opposites beneath the surface.

Olivia, meanwhile, comes face to face with her alternate universe counterpart, a chestnut-haired Fringe agent who seems to have attained the things that she never could: a healthy relationship with a lover (Philip Winchester), a positive relationship with a mother who is dead in her world. (But it's come at a cost: this world's Rachel died in childbirth.) While they're both intrigued by the other--they seem to represent a case of What If?--their instincts soon kick in and the two engage in a vicious fight that nearly kills Olivia before she's able to knock her doppelganger out and tie her up.

It seemed at first to me that Olivia had killed her with a blow to the head but that was quickly disproved. I knew that Olivia would take her counterpart's place (and that the distinctive neck tattoo would have to play a part) but didn't see the bait-and-switch that came later as alternate Olivia took our Olivia's place back in our world. It's a masterful ploy that balances things out: just as Walter took Peter, so too does Walternate take Olivia here, leaving her imprisoned on the other side.

Which leaves Alternate Olivia in our world, alone with Peter and Walter and in a strange world she doesn't really understand. Considering what passed in this episode between Olivia and Peter--and their discussion of their true feelings for one another, culminating in a kiss--I've got to believe that Peter will pick up on Olivia's differences very quickly. Especially with that neck tattoo...

Just when did Walternate decide that infiltrating the other side was more important than keeping Peter Bishop there? Hmmm... As we see from the very end of the episode, Alternate Olivia reports back to the Secretary via the typewriter, delivering a message that her infiltration was successful and waiting for new orders. Just what those orders are will have to wait until next season. But I dare say that both Peter and Walter Bishop are in serious danger.

In addition to the Olivia/Olivia and Olivia/Peter scenes, there were some other fantastic moments here (besides as well for seeing Charlie Francis again) between Walter and Leonard Nimoy's William Bell. Far too often, Bell has been presented as a secret villain within the mythology of Fringe but we see that that's not really the case here. Yes, he helped develop the shapeshifters and much of the advanced technology of the other world, but he claims he did so in order to remain useful to Walternate... and that he traveled to the other world not to profit from their tech but to undo the damage that Walter had caused by stealing Peter. (We also learned that that world's Bell died in a car accident and never met Walter Bishop.)

There was a beautiful scene between the two as they drove to Walter's old lab at Harvard University and Walter came face to face with the destruction that his actions had caused, the devastation and the quarantined areas, with people trapped inside like insects in amber. As always, John Noble deserves an Emmy nomination (and, really, an award) for his stunning performance; here, he delivers quite a few stirring scenes that resonate with loss, grief, and anger. (And love as well: witness the scene where he sees Peter once again.)

"Did I cause this," he asks, a cross between a child and an elderly man, as his voice quivers. Bell doesn't sugar-coat the answer for him... but Walter finally does get an answer about why Bell cut out pieces of his brain, erasing swaths of memory, and we get some answers about Massive Dynamic to boot.

"Creating Massive Dynamic was not my idea," Bell angrily yells, which is an interesting reveal because it makes me wonder just who did. Was it Walter Bishop himself? After all, the two had had many plans and dreams together, but Walter's were sidetracked by the memory loss and his subsequent institutionalization at St. Clare's. We see here a partnership divided not just by a gap between the worlds but by a monumental chasm that's built on personal choices. Walter saw himself as the victim in his story, but what if he was becoming a true villain, making choices without thinking of the irrevocable consequences for both worlds?

"I did it because you asked me to, because of what you were becoming," Bell tells Walter about why he had pieces of Walter's brain removed. Just what was Walter becoming? A monster bent on harvesting the other world? A man who had already thwarted the laws of physics once and was out of control? Just what other horrors had Walter unleashed? Or had been prepared to?

We see a very different Bell than the one we've built up in our collective imaginings, one who is more nursemaid and clean-up crew for Walter Bishop, one who sacrificed his life to clean up the mess that Walter created in his wake... and one who is now willing to sacrifice his own mortality in order to save him once more. Bell is the "doorstop" that he mentioned to Walter, able to push open the crack created by Olivia so that she and the Bishops can get home. Little does he know that his sacrifice has sent the faux-Olivia over to the other world.

Something tells me we'll be seeing a lot more of both worlds as Fringe returns for a third season in the fall. With Olivia Dunham trapped over there and a false replacement taking her place in our world, the team will have to unravel what's really going on... and Olivia will have to find a way to return home, possibly on her own, just as she's made a major step to reclaim her long-buried emotional connections. Will the others notice a change in her behavior? What are her orders? Is William Bell truly dead? Who has Nina Sharp been answering to all of these years? And just what was Walter up to when he asked Walter to erase his memories? Find out next season.

What did you think of the season finale and the season as a whole? Head to the comments section to discuss.

Season Three of Fringe begins this fall on FOX.


Bella Spruce said…
I wish Fringe could have had a longer season finale. I wanted to see more interaction with Peter and his "real" parents. However, I'm sure we'll see more of the alternate universe next season as poor Oliva is stuck there with evil Walternate. John Noble is amazing!
Anonymous said…
Thanks for another great review!

I have to wonder if we will see more of Peter's mother next season, if possibly she will find a way to free Olivia, and if Walter and Peter will turn Faux-Olivia to the other side.

I hope somehow Bell is still around, the scenes with Walter and "Belly" were great.

Is there an AlterNina? Does she know Broyles on either side?

I will keep reading and keep watching!
Amie Schantz
Elliiot said…
I'm not convinced that Walter is responsible for all the devastation; Walternate's goons have been doing a LOT of travelling between universes, they own a share of the responsibility.

Peter notes this when he talks to Walternate ("that's a lot to place on one person").

I think we will find out that there's blame to go around.
Chris L said…
As always, Fringe answered a few questions, but then left us with ten thousand more. Kind of like another J.J. Abrams show we know and love...

Anyway, I loved it. Particularly every scene with William Bell in it. I think this character is a fitting send off for Nimoy, but it breaks my heart to see him go. As far as I'm concerned, he's doing his best work now, alongside John Noble. In fact, they should star in a movie together: Grumpy Old Mad Scientists.

Also - am I alone when I say that Alternate Olivia is hotter than her counterpart?

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